America’s Cup: All Hands on Deck

Published on June 19th, 2017

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt
“Well, that didn’t go well,” says every fan cheering for the America’s Cup Defender, Oracle Team USA. In the opening weekend of the 35th America’s Cup, the Jimmy Spithill skippered squad stared at the kiwi stern through all four races.

“How could they be that much faster,” asked the Defender fans. Remember how the kiwi team repeatedly said how the lessons of San Francisco would direct this effort? Their biggest error then was in showing their foiling ability too soon. Were the kiwis sandbagging through these Challenger trials?

Wink, wink.

“No worries, mate, we’ve been here before,” notes the Defense supporter, remembering the 1-8 hole the team dug out of to win the 34th edition in San Francisco. “Being down 0-3* is nothing.”

Perhaps, except this isn’t 2013. Back then, the boats were different. The skills were green. The Defender had far more experience in every department, and while their comeback remains remarkable, they had more gas in the tank. That kiwi team was maxed out.

To grow this America’s Cup, the Defender purposely closed this knowledge gap. The boats are now the same. The wings are now the same. The only differences are the foils and systems… all decisions that take months and months to develop and master. If Oracle Team USA needs to make a change, they have five days.

With the fifth race on Saturday, June 24, and racing to continue daily thereafter until there is a winner, time is not a luxury.

“Everything will be put out on the table, nothing will be off limits, and over the next five days our incredible shore team will be looking at every aspect of our boat,” states Spithill.

“Mate, they will get it done,” believes the Oracle fan. Few would doubt there will be improvements for the Defender, but they remain in the shadow of the New Zealand adage to not repeat the mistakes of 2013. Unlike that Challenger, this version does not look maxed out.

So what will this Aussie-led, American-funded squad do? There will be changes we may not see on the boat that may or may not help. Here’s a couple areas that are more guaranteed to have an impact:

Mother Nature: The kiwis are fast in light air and all of defense owner Larry Ellison’s money isn’t going to change that. So the Oracle better do a wind dance. Putting the ever variable wind forecasts for Bermuda aside, the long range outlook for the upcoming weekend winds is similar to this past weekend. Did the kiwis invest heavily in the low range? The defender needs to push the wind speed into the mid-teens to dig out of their hole.

Spitbull: After the first day, Spithill told the world press the boat speeds were comparable. I’m hoping that was a lie and he knew better. The kiwis were faster, and with the winds the same on day two, Spithill’s only option was to attack. This is match racing, right? Spithill got his reputation by brutalizing his opponent on the start, right? The kiwis win all the time when they are ahead. Nobody has ever passed them. But Spithill kept his gloves on, allowing the kiwi skipper Peter Burling to get even starts.

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

To their credit, the Defender has worked tirelessly to make the 35th America’s Cup commercially sustainable. They have helped challengers participate, they shortened the event, and moded the races into a consumable broadcast product. But though this overhaul they have chipped away at advantages typically held by the Defender.

If the Defender wants to defend again, the focus can no longer be on Bermuda, on cocktail parties, on Superyachts. The focus must be on them. It’s now all hands on deck.

 

* Emirates Team New Zealand start with -1 point due to ORACLE TEAM USA’s win in the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Qualifiers

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